by Sharon Wahl
wilight in a forest where the primordial silence is interrupted
by the scrape and push, crunch and clod-toss of a shovel. Here lie Richard,
Brian, Doug, Henry, George. . . Here I am burying Arthur, in his favorite
socks. Here lie the bones of all but Meredith, who drowned and by the time
I gathered him was picked clean enough for closer keeping; his ebony bones
glisten dully in my vanity's bottom drawer. Long thin leg shakes,
butterfly-winged vertebrae. But it's the claws that get your attention:
an agile predator, Meredith, and as a mate, both rudder and counterbalance.
Of Richard, my first and longest love, I had the least to keep: only
a large well-worn tooth, smooth from mashing plants. The world was covered
then in sea and swamp and dotted by islands. For years we napped on warm but
well-protected rocks. Richard was slow in the mornings, but what dreamer
is not? His extinction posed for me a primeval ideological conundrum: if
he was perfect — and he was, he had no competition, none at all yet — how
could I adapt to other creatures?
Eons passed. Drier land emerged; also Brian, Doug, and Henry. Conifers
spread feathery needles over gigantic ferns. Our breath smelled of sweet sap
and mouldering fronds.
There was a time of trombone-solo mating calls on five-foot hollow crests.
It was George who embodied most perfectly this reptilian type, notoriously
uncooperative, yet voluptuous with life. He attained the greatest bulk of all
my loves, and as might be expected, also sported some of the most conspicuous
parts. Ah, the tree of my George, long since felled!
Plants now included magnolias and ubiquitous lowland volcanoes. Continental
drift was still a crazy fantasy. We were up to our armpits in dead snails.
Those lumbering swampland fellows had given way to frisky, energetic
dry-land guys. Was it my taste, or did the times determine each type's appeal?
I never was certain. Much debate has revolved around interpretations of anatomy.
Were flamboyant head frills a sign of degeneration and doom, as some believed, or
merely a natural result of the development of powerful chewing muscles?
Allen, David and Greg were all more bird-like than reptilian. From their
delicate arched feet to their flared nostrils, they underwent few refinements
through the centuries we flocked together. Each spring I laid great clutches
of rubbery eggs. What an advantage ovipositation was. The pleasure we shared
assembling a nest; the egg's smooth plop; the excitement of a tiny foot, and
then a head, emerging! An egg is such a neat little package, cleanly delivered
and difficult to improve upon. What a pity we cannot choose, from all the shapes
evolution tries out on us, the traits most worth keeping. Progress is merely a
compromise, an average.
Edward and Othniel were of an entirely different nature: proprietary,
possessive, absurdly and expensively ambitious. When they discovered that they
were both digging in the same backyard, so to speak, they locked into mortal
combat. They first assumed a four-legged stance, but then, as theories were
revised to account for newer fossil finds, they reassembled in a two-legged
posture which left their arms free to grab and scratch and claw with even
greater ferocity. They began to call each other names — "Elasmosaurus!"
"Apatosaurus!" "Your head is on your ass!" "Your skull belongs to another
species!" It was a lengthy process which left the two of them financially
ruined, as well as vilified in the press. And I lost both of them at once.
But the bone wars are now long over. Time shuffles by; plates shift,
mountains jumble, disillusion creeps. Like my memories, DNA gets ever more
Now it is the Age of Enumeration, the age to count and classify.
I have often wondered, of all of them, which did I like best? But such
comparisons, though tempting, are thoroughly unscientific. I debate their
merits not to choose among them, but to remember them all. For what
would the testing of my affectionate hypotheses tell me? Only how very
lucky I have been.
Sharon Wahl is writing a book of love stories inspired by classic philosophy
texts. Stories from this book have been published in The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review,
Harvard Review, Literal Latte, and others; one of the stories,
"I Also Dated Zarathustra,"
can be found online. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her story, "The Pea," appeared in Issue #7 of The Cafe Irreal.
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story copyright by author 2007 all rights reserved